Filmmaker’s Exposé of Israeli Checkpoints Stirs Controversy
JNS.org – The controversy over Israel’s security checkpoints is heating up in the wake of a new investigative report showing that the perceived hardships endured by many Palestinian travelers are much less severe than critics of Israel have charged.
For example, Human Rights Watch asserted in its most recent annual report that waiting times at the Palestinian checkpoints are “onerous,” and Amnesty International has claimed that the waiting times constitute “collective punishment.” But filmmaker and investigative journalist Ami Horowitz, in a video report titled “Palestinian Road Trip,” found something very different.
In the video, Horowitz presents interviews he conducted with Palestinian travelers at the Qalandia checkpoint, which is the major access point to Jerusalem from Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
All of the Palestinians that Horowitz spoke to said that it took them 10 minutes or less to get through the checkpoint. “That included waiting time and the time it took for the Israeli soldiers to check their identity papers,” Horowitz told JNS.org. Horowitz found a similar situation at the Bethlehem checkpoint.
The filmmaker also hired a Palestinian driver and traveled “over 300 miles” throughout the disputed territories in a car bearing Arab license plates. “We were not stopped even once,” Horowitz said. “The notion that Palestinians’ freedom of movement is restricted was not borne out by my experience.”
Horowitz’s investigation of the checkpoints is just one part of a full-length film that he will release later this year. Horowitz decided to unveil the checkpoints segment now, in response to the claims made by former US Secretary of State John Kerry in his speech about Israel last December.
Kerry had said that Palestinians “are restricted in their daily movements by a web of checkpoints” that “can make even the most routine daily trips to work or school an ordeal.” Kerry claimed the checkpoints prohibit Palestinians from making a living, and stop Palestinians from receiving medical care.
Sari Bashi, the Israel and Palestine Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, told JNS.org that regardless of the waiting times, she objects to the very existence of the Qalandia checkpoint, saying that “east Jerusalem is part of the occupied West Bank,” and “should, under international law, be open and accessible to Palestinian residents of the West Bank.”
Bashi was asked by JNS.org to view Horowitz’s five-and-a-half-minute video and comment on it, but she declined. Horowitz, in response, said, “[Bashi’s] refusal to even watch a short video that would possibly add some depth and context to Human Rights Watch’s reflexive anti-Israel position says it all.”
Gerald Steinberg, director of the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor, said that Human Rights Watch fails to recognize the role of the checkpoints in pre-empting suicide bombings and other terrorist acts. “Bashi’s fundamental objection to checkpoints reflects the way in which Israeli human rights are routinely ignored by Human Rights Watch and other NGOs,” Steinberg said. “Israel has an obligation to its citizens, as well as to Palestinians, to provide security and maintain order. Checkpoints have been effective in preventing terror and violence.”
Dr. Alex Safian, associate director and research director at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), noted that wait times on security lines at US airports can be much longer than those that Horowitz found at Qalandia. For example, Safian found that the average wait on peak days at JFK airport in New York “is more than 40 minutes.”
Spokespeople for Amnesty International and the Israeli NGOs B’Tselem and Machsom Watch were invited by JNS.org to comment on Horowitz’s film, but did not respond.
The checkpoints issue features prominently in the arguments made by proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In 2014, the Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from Motorola on the grounds that the company was assisting in the operation of “checkpoints that dehumanize Palestinians.” In addition, the United Church of Christ cited the checkpoints in adopting its own pro-BDS resolution in 2015. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has embraced a manifesto known as the “Kairos Document,” which accuses Israel of perpetrating “daily humiliation” of Palestinians at checkpoints. As a result, a number of Lutheran synods around the country have called for boycotting Motorola.